Imagine a school where children and their parents face the horrors of gang violence right outside the gates.
Imagine a school where 35 languages are spoken.
Imagine a school where students share their homes with five other families.
What would you do in such a school?
How about working with the police to prevent gangs recruiting pupils as they wait for the bus? How about teaching yourself the basics of numerous languages, just to communicate with your pupils and their parents? How about redesigning an entire curriculum to resonate with an ethnically diverse student body?
Our Global Teacher Prize Winner 2018
Andria Zafirakou has done all of this – and so much more – at Alperton Community College.
The school is in Brent, an inner city area of London. It’s one of the UK’s most ethnically diverse – and disadvantaged – places.
The winner of the Global Teacher Prize 2018 faced a daunting task when she joined the school. The challenges of poverty, gang violence and engaging young people from such a diverse range of backgrounds were all too clear.
But throughout the school and on the streets she is driving change.
Speaking without words
Andria is an art and textiles teacher.
“They’re powerful subjects,” she says. “They help the students unlock all of their language barriers.”
Art transcends language, she believes. Through art, she’s able to develop pupils’ skills, improve their confidence and help them achieve something. As part of this, she introduced an ‘artist in residence’, who helps the students on a technical level, but also offers an outlet for what can be challenging and difficult home circumstances.
Thanks to her work, Alperton has been awarded ‘specialist school’ status in visual arts.
Heading off the gangs
Her own classroom is just the beginning, though. After school, walkie-talkie in hand, she’s outside the school gates, getting pupils safely onto local buses and heading off recruiters for the local gangs.
Gang violence is a major problem in the local area. She works closely with the police to identify potential issues and recruiters.
“You can’t let that come through the school gates,” she says. “We have to protect our pupils – at all costs.”
Giving pupils a fighting chance
She has also set up a boxing club for the times she can’t be there.
Pupils learn to protect themselves and have a safe place to let off steam. It’s great exercise, and stops them from being out on the streets in the evening.
She also reworked the school’s timetable to allow girls-only sport, important in a conservative community. The result? A cup-winning girls’ cricket team.
The next generation of teachers
But, she knows she can’t do it all alone. She leads the professional development initiative for the school, building the talent of other teachers for the future.
It’s not just skills development with her fellow teachers, though. Her endless and unwavering commitment inspires others to work just as hard:
“You grab onto that enthusiasm she has,” says colleague Nicola Hazley, “and it drives you forward.”
It makes a difference
The results? Well, they speak for themselves.
Alperton is in the top 5% in England and Wales for improving pupils’ achievement
It’s one of fewer than 10 schools to win the Institute of Education’s Professional Development Platinum Mark.
The maths department won TES 2017 maths team of the year, thanks in part to real-life situations she helped introduce to the classroom.
Staff are constantly learning, adapting and becoming better educators.
But, most importantly, students are driven to succeed, to achieve, and to forge a better life for themselves.
“My calling in life is to make sure that every single child reaches their full potential.
That I unlock that.
That I make sure, whatever it is that they need to achieve, I make it happen for them.”